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Non-Consensual Sexually Explicit Media

May 10, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas and Dr. Tomy Granzier-Nakajima

Executive Summary

Non-consensual sexual media offenses can refer to the production, distribution, or sending of sexually explicit images or videos without the consent of the individual depicted in or receiving them. The two most common behaviors considered non-consensual sexual media offenses include revenge porn (distributing sexually explicit images without a person’s consent often in retaliation) and cyberflashing (the unsolicited sending or sharing of sexually explicit images via digital technologies). Revenge porn is not a new phenomenon and most states already have legislation criminalizing the dissemination of such content. However, given new development in technology and social media applications, cyberflashing is becoming a significant public health, criminal, and social problem that affects large segments of the population, and most states do not have legislation directly addressing the issue.

Highlights

  • In a 2018 study, 52% of women and 36% of men 18–34 years old report having received an unsolicited sexually explicit image.
  • Individuals victimized by revenge porn and cyberflashing can experience negative effects including anxiety and depression. The negative effects of revenge porn can also include post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts, in addition to damaging social relationships.
  • Most recent estimates suggest that 69% of children own a smartphone by the age of 12 years old and by high school,  80-90% of students own a smartphone.
    • In states without underage “sexting” laws, minor-to-minor sharing of explicit images can lead to child pornography charges for the youth involved.
  • While 46 states have criminal laws against revenge porn, only two states (Texas and Virginia) have passed laws to penalize cyberflashing.

Limitations

  • While laws related to sexually explicit media attempt to deter the distribution of images with legal consequences, there is little evidence to suggest that these laws reduce the occurrence of such offenses.
    • Critics suggest that laws have been outpaced by teen behaviors and developing technologies, and argue for improvements in sex and health education.
  • Digital technologies used for sending explicit images have existed for a short period of time, and studies may not capture the full extent of the situation.
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